By Tom Collins, CCEC
Clean Elections chief: Proposals from Terry Goddard and lawmakers fly in the face of voter-approved reforms. With another session of the Arizona Legislature underway, politicians soon will commence tinkering with our state's election laws. No doubt their proposals will be touted as "reform," but voters should beware.
True reform has at its heart empowering Arizona's voters through transparency and anti-corruption laws, not aiding self-interested candidates and their donors.The purpose of the Citizens Clean Elections Act, passed by voters in 1998, is to expand voters' voice in the elections process. It has done that for 17 years.
Clean Elections provides voters more information about the candidates and their positions. It helps sever the link between donations and political favors. And it ensures non-partisan enforcement of the state's election laws.
Already in this legislative session, however, two election-law proposals have surfaced that would put the priorities of politicians and their special interest backers ahead of the interests of voters.
Each of them — a "dark money" measure pushed by losing Secretary of State candidate Terry Goddard and a legislative act authored by Sen. Steve Pierce and Rep. Warren Peterson — fly in the face of the true reforms Arizona voters have supported for the past 30 years.
The Goddard concept has at its crux a noble goal: The former attorney general and perpetual political candidate claims he wants to reveal to voters the true source of campaign dollars.
Unfortunately, as a recent story in The Arizona Republic detailed, Goddard arrives at this transparency by abandoning election laws that limit campaign contributions and their sources. Voters have never asked for this political trade off. Arizonans have consistently said they don't want more money channeled from special interests to politicians in return for insider political favors.
The Goddard concept is the kind of false choice that voters have seen before from those in elected office who presumably would like to stay in elected office. It's the same logic our political leaders used when they raised campaign contribution limits ten-fold in 2013 heading into the 2014 election. The result was the most expensive, least transparent election in Arizona history.
The Pierce-Peterson act (SCR 1001 and HCR 1004) is likewise cynical. They propose that voters repeal the substantive provisions of the Clean Elections Act and redirect the funding for Clean Elections to K-12 education, while generously leaving in place the name "Clean Elections Fund."
This bit of Orwellian language makes a mockery of the Arizona Constitution's straightforward mandates for lawmakers. Time and again the courts have rejected such chicanery and they likely will again.
While it may be politically cunning to force lawmakers and voters to choose between the repeal of Clean Elections, with its strong anti-corruption laws and voter information programs, and our seriously underfunded K-12 education system, the result is a lose-lose.
The fund the act targets will take in about $8.4 million this year, a pittance to an education system underfunded by more than a billion dollars, according to some. Raiding that fund would eliminate debates and the candidate statement pamphlet that voters rely on to get informed.
It also would gut the only non-partisan enforcer addressing "dark money," while raising the amount of money statewide and legislative candidates can take from special interests.
True reform is not a hyper-technical argument intended to mislead voters and unleash a torrent of campaign cash. True reform recognizes that democracy requires transparency and strong anti-corruption laws. Clean Elections serves those purposes, while these two proposals do no such thing.
Tom Collins is executive director of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission